Stargirl – the book that helped me understand the damage of conformity and the depth of love
Stargirl by Jery Spinelli (no affiliate links … and with a now hideous yellow cover) is a book that you might find in the Young Adult section of any decent bookshop.
I adore teenage fiction and I do not apologise for that. A list of about 10 novels that I would recommend for curious teens begins with Catcher in the Rye and ends with Stargirl with a smattering of wonder between (I should maybe list those in a separate post).
My own teenage years were rife with anxiety and low self-esteem, states of mind that were not identified in those days but seem to be prevalent now. I was not a great reader and was simply ignored by my English teacher when I said I did not understand Shakespeare and opted to study Lord of the Rings for my 'O' level. Needless to say, I had a poor education and made myself feel better by believing the applauds that I was a high achiever because I had managed to get 4 'O' levels.
As an adult it is easy to look back and make assessments on life's turning points. However, as a parent, it is difficult to express how frustrating it is to see the same environment exist for your own children. The institutionalised pressure to conform seems to overwhelm important aspects of individuality.
Think about it
We all wore the same clothes, sat at the same desks in basically identical classrooms. We studied from the same textbooks and were tasked with answering the same questions in the same exams. We were expected to memorise and regurgitate in order to maintain the belief that our lives depended on our success in this.
Where is the room for an individual to express, to understand themselves? In the most precious and influential time of our lives, we are curriculum fed, results-driven … statistics.
It is a miracle, and I am grateful, that my own daughters have emerged from this with questions. What was it for? What am I to do? What do I want?
Stargirl portrays a girl that is non-conformist. She is sweet and innocent, so her character is likeable. In fact, she seems to make no enemies and everyone likes her (though I am not sure that they know why). A boy falls for her and feels 'love'. However, his own conditioning, education and peer pressure, lead him to spoil this gift.
But it is not the story that I wish to post about here.
Nor is it the realisation that, as artists, we believe we are non-conformist … but maybe the audience that we try to reach are not.
It is the gift of oneself.
I read this novel at the age of 48 to my brilliant and beautiful partner. We had not yet met. In fact, it had been a year of messages (over a million words) followed by an unending skype connection allowing some sort of non-conventional relationship to bloom. But every night, until the book ended I would read aloud a chapter to her. My voice carried across the Atlantic and told a story of a young girl believing in herself from day one.
It has now been over 5 years and despite all obstacles; the geography, the cost of meeting up and the frustration of impatience, Rachel and I are stronger than ever, with a love that defies convention and relies on something outside of ourselves.
The rewards are born of Faith. Faith in ourselves and the capacity we have to achieve something outside the norm and faith in each other. The recognition that we both, can tell stories that are beyond the mundane or expected; either of pain or guilt or magic and wonder. Faith in the magic that is not befuddled by the conformity of the many.
I recognised my Stargirl and I would wish it for everyone.